Peyton Manning retired on Monday beginning the end of the “golden era” of NFL quarterbacking. Manning along with Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger became the faces of the NFL for almost two decades. Now, one of those face will no longer be on the field.
I’m saying this not from a negative standpoint. Or someone that thinks the younger quarterbacks aren’t good. They just won’t be able to advance and revolutionize the game the same way.
1. Old QBs played in and against prehistoric schemes
Most people look at the 70s or 80s and say that was the golden era with loads of hall of famers. Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw, Bob Griese and Dan Fouts defend the 70s case, while John Elway, Dan Marino, Joe Montana and Warren Moon defend the 80s. Older fans say they called their own plays and knew how to command a huddle. However, quarterbacks from the 70s played in a grind-it-out era. And QBs from the 80s played in advanced air raid systems that confused primitive defensive schemes.
In comparison, Manning and his counterparts had to deal with major defensive adjustments such as the Tampa 2. The defense forced massive pressure with four man rush, while they used the back seven to blanket the field. The 2000
2. The Numbers favor Manning’s era
The touchdowns and yards show the biggest disparity of the era. Before Manning entered the league, just 12 players had thrown for 250 plus career touchdown passes. In the NFL’s 78 years prior to Manning’s arrival, just 12 were able to accomplish this feat. Since then, eight guys have already equaled or bettered that number. Tony Romo will be the ninth to join that group this season, assuming he stays healthy.
Yards-wise, the numbers are almost the same. Thirteen players threw for 35,000 plus yards before Manning’s time. Since then, nine guys have surpassed the 35,000 yard mark.
Obviously, people are going to say the game was different because corners could hit receivers down the field before Manning’s time. But, players were not nearly as athletic back then and the scheme’s were much simpler. I’m not saying they couldn’t adapt, but it’d be tough.
3. Reliance on run game
As I stated above quarterbacks relied on the ground attack in the past. Manning was right in the middle of the transition from ground attack to air attack. There is a notable difference in how many passing yards people put up in the 70s and 80s in comparison to the Manning era. For instance, The top three passers in the 70s were Dan Fouts (237.8 yards per game), Terry Bradshaw (166.6) and Roger Staubach (173.3). In the 80s the numbers rose a bit, Dan Marino (253.6), Joe Montana (211.2) and Warren Moon (237.1).
The numbers still never reached the NFL’s cerebral modern era. The top three quarterbacks of this generation surpass all the previously mentioned players: Tom Brady (257.9), Drew Brees (280.7) and Peyton Manning (270.5).
It’s a simple formula: advanced schemes, statistics and pressure on the passing game equal up to a dominant modern era quarterback. Sadly, the era will be ending within the next four to five years.
4. Breakdown in the Future
I’m not saying Andrew Luck, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson aren’t solid quarterbacks of the future. It’s just something football fans should appreciate cause these greats won’t be around much longer. We saw the passing game make a quantum leap under Manning, Brady, Brees, etc.
We also saw it become a run first game from the NFL down into the collegiate in high school ranks. If you look at the last few drafts it’s filled with spread or air raid quarterbacks. The spread and air raid use easy quick throws and easy reads to get the ball into the receivers hands. these offensive schemes don’t include a three step or five step drop most times. It doesn’t include multiple reads. These offenses have set the NFL back. Now quarterbacks have to sit and learn a whole lot more.
For instance, guys that were touted as talented draft picks are considered projects now. Quarterbacks such as Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel, Geno Smith, Vince Young and the list goes on and on. These guys played in spread systems that ultimately failed them at the NFL level.
The biggest problem isn’t the failures, but the successes that are struggling even more. Andrew Luck and Cam Newton are great starters in this league. But they are hemorrhaging turnovers. The two are considered the new age of quarterback, because they put up astronomical numbers, but they turn it over far too much. Luck has thrown for 14,838 yards, 101 touchdowns and 55 interceptions in 55 career games. That’s far too many picks this far into his career and that doesn’t even include his 32 career fumbles.
Newton’s numbers are particularly efficient either. For all his greatness, he has thrown 64 career interceptions and fumbled 35 times. Obviously, if anyone goes back and looks at Manning’s start to his career it wasn’t shining either. He holds the rookie record for interceptions with 28. But the next season he cut that total to 15.
Quarterbacks are progressing at a slower rate because offenses are focusing on scoring instead of developing. Players are coming with a worse understanding of defenses and that’s the only way to describe it.